Rights of Passage: Struggles for Lesbian and Gay Legal Equality


198 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7231-3
DDC 305.9'0664'0971





Reviewed by Sara Stratton

Sara Stratton teaches history at York University.


The 1994 defeat of Ontario’s Bill 167 (which would have legally
recognized same-sex unions), and the current agitation to enshrine
sexual orientation in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms are
symptomatic of a shift in the fight for gay and lesbian rights in
Canada. Rather than asking the state to stay out of their bedrooms, gays
and lesbians are demanding that the state grant them equality of
opportunity and treatment. This shift is the focus of Herman’s study.

Herman begins with the public debate over Bill 7, which in 1986 added
sexual orientation to the Ontario Human Rights Code, and reviews the key
cases in the civil-rights campaign, most notably Andrews (1988), over
health coverage; and Mossop (1989), over bereavement leave. She notes
that in these cases, expert evidence shifted from psychological or
sexological to sociological opinions. She considers this a part of the
“liberalization” of the gay and lesbian agenda, which resulted in
the “perception of lesbians and gay men as a discrete minority
community, whose innate ‘difference’ should not result in prejudice
and discrimination.” Herman then discusses the New Christian Right’s
opposition to the extension of civil liberties to gay men and lesbians.
While never losing sight of the tremendous gains made in the 1980s,
Herman worries that the liberal/conservative nature of gay and lesbian
politics may be stultifying; she longs for a radical initiative.

Perhaps because they never reached secular courts, Herman omits two
intriguing civil-rights cases involving homosexuality and the Church.
Both the United Church and the Anglican Church have been embroiled in
controversies over the rights of gay men and lesbians within their
ordained ranks. When, in 1988, the United Church stated that it would
not deny gay men and lesbians ordination, it lost many congregations to
the so-called “Community of Concern.” The Anglican Church fired one
of its priests, Jim Ferry, when he acknowledged his homosexuality.

That is one omission. Another is the complete lack of historical
context prior to the late 1970s. This, combined with a convoluted prose
style, makes this book a difficult read at times. However, it is a vital
contribution to the emerging field of gay and lesbian studies in Canada.


Herman, Didi., “Rights of Passage: Struggles for Lesbian and Gay Legal Equality,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/29956.